May 03, 2018 10:20 PM
A former National League Hockey player from White Bear Lake suffered from one of most severe cases of the degenerative brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), according to medical records provided Thursday exclusively to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS and The New York Times.
Researchers at Boston University’s CTE Center say Jeff Parker had Stage 3 CTE - the same level of the disease that was found in the brain of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez.
"It was pretty damning evidence of CTE," Scott Parker, Jeff's brother, said in an interview earlier this week. "The results were worse than I think we thought."
Jeff Parker's family donated his brain to Boston University after he died of unrelated health issues at the age of 53 last September.
Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at Boston's VA hospital and director of the CTE Center, said test results show a large, brown build-up of a protein called Tau on Parker's brain, the key indicator of CTE.
"Jeff Parker's brain was at such a stage - the disease was taking over his brain," McKee said in a phone interview from Boston Thursday. "It's very substantial brain damage….the nerve cells weren't working."
"(Jeff) was suffering, but he didn't let us know," said Scott Parker, who described his brother as a "gentle giant" who struggled with his health for years.
"He couldn't function like everybody else, (but) he had a lot of love in his heart."
Since the disease can only be detected after death, McKee said people like Parker did not know whether it caused symptoms like a lack of impulse control, progressive dementia and memory loss.
Earlier this year, McKee granted 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS rare access to the lab in Boston where her team has found CTE in the brains of former athletes, military veterans and teenagers.
The team's findings helped pressure the National Football League into reaching a $1 billion settlement with former players finalized last year. CTE research is also at the center of a federal lawsuit filed in St. Paul against the NHL.
In that pending suit, former players accuse the league of downplaying the risks of concussions and head hits.
A federal judge will decide in the coming months whether the lawsuit will be certified as a class-action, which would then allow all former players to seek damages.
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Parker, whose five-year NHL career ended in the early 1990s after a severe concussion, joined the lawsuit before his death.
He is now one of seven former NHL players, including former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derrek Boogaard, to be diagnosed with CTE after death.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said the science behind CTE is inconclusive, and that it's premature to warn players about potential health consequences as they relate to hockey.
League representatives did not return messages seeking comment Thursday.
Scott Parker said the time has finally come for the league to acknowledge the validity of the CTE research.
"I don't know how anyone can refute this evidence," he said. "That's the smoking gun."
Watch 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS AT 10 p.m. to hear more from Scott Parker and Dr. Ann McKee.
Joe Augustine and Eric Chaloux
Updated: May 03, 2018 10:20 PM
Created: May 03, 2018 01:52 PM
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